New York imprint Standards Manual crowdfunds retro graphic design

New York imprint Standards Manual crowdfunds retro graphic design

This New York imprint is rescuing lost gems of graphic design and crowdfunding them with an eager audience.


The pitch

Standards Manual is an independent publishing imprint that archives lost artifacts of graphic design. Its latest title, currently fundraising on Kickstarter, is Emoji: the first hardcover book and smartphone keyboard (via an app) of the 176 original emoji drawings created by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita in 1999.

"Our mission is to make documents that were either hard to obtain or not intended for commercial release accessible to a wider audience," says co-founder Jesse Reed. "The business started with reissuing standards manuals from the 1970s and ‘80s—now we’ve begun publishing other collections that focus on various aspects of design." 

The team

Based in New York, the two founders—Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth—launched the imprint with only a smattering of help from consultants for various aspects of the company such as PR, video and writing. Now they are supported by a team of three full-time staff, who work both on Standards Manual and their design consultancy, Order. 

What's the gap in the market? 

Reed and Smyth believe that crowdfunding platforms offer an unmissable opportunity for indie presses who know they have a audience - but not one that trade publishers are familiar with.

"We spoke with a well-known art book publisher in the very beginning—they met with us once and never followed up, so we took matters into our own hands," Reed says. "It’s a lot easier nowadays with platform like Kickstarter, but the same goes for other industries like music and television. If you want to release an album, you have Bandcamp or Spotify. If you want to produce a film or TV show, you can put it on Vimeo or YouTube. The days of sitting around and waiting to be discovered are over."

Success so far?

The company's biggest success so far has been the NASA Graphics Standards Manual by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, from 1975. The book, "a futuristic vision for an agency at the cutting edge of science and exploration", features a foreword by Richard Danne, an essay by Christopher Bonanos, scans of the original manual (from Danne’s personal copy), reproductions of the original NASA 35mm slide presentation, and scans of the ‘Managers Guide’, a follow up booklet distributed by NASA.

"We raised almost $1 million during the Kickstarter campaign for NASA, which allowed us to print approximately 13k books as a first run," Jesse reports. :We’ve since printed four editions - about 30k books of NASA alone. Our online sales are defiantly what keep things moving—we love bookstores, but it’s not sustainable anymore to only rely on those sales." 

Smyth (left) and Reed (right)

Biggest challenges?

Shipping and logistics is by far the biggest challenge for the Standards Manual team. "The details are boring and frustrating, but our advice to anyone starting a business that requires fulfillment would be finding a good partner to help you with distribution, particularly if you’re dealing with international sales," Jesse says. "Our rule of thumb is if you’re producing over 1k of anything, don’t ship it yourself." 

Ultimate ambition?

The team has half a dozen ideas in the pipeline, but they're also focused on growing their consultancy, Order.

"We’ve just hit the one year mark and things are going really well," Jesse says. "At the end of the day we’re designers at heart—publishing is just a fun side project that was never meant to be anything more than a single book project. We’ll ride it out until people stop buying books (which we hope doesn't happen any time soon!)."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Make sure you have an audience. Does someone really want to spend $50 on your photography portfolio, or is it better to make a website and have gallery shows? Creating demand is hard and it often happens by accident, like it did with us, so the one piece of advice that’s critical is recognizing opportunity. If you post something on Instagram (or wherever) and it gets thousands of “likes’, chances are you’re on to something. Our first website got 250k hits in the first week—that was our sign."